Day 11: Evening, Part I
To some, angels are a joke. Signs, spirits, positive energy, and the greater “meaning” is little more than nonsense. My personal belief system falls somewhere between Catholic and a general belief in spirituality. A confirmed Catholic, I rarely attend church and long ago found that I did not entirely believe in the religion. What I do believe in is the power of faith, prayer, God, and spirit energy. I believe that people have spirit guides and that their loved ones remain near after they pass on. I found — and find — this comforting.
When it comes to spiritual belief, people will follow their own personal views. Nobody will know the truth until they cross the threshold between life and death. In the interim, faith steps in. I believe that the energy we put out there to accomplish the things we want and asking for help or guidance from spirits (the universe, God, or whatever deity one prays to) is natural and has its place in human history for good reason.
The night before, Josh and I had sent up our individual prayers in the fire to ask for guidance, a sign, something to help us to keep going. Sheer determination and perseverance can make dreams happen, but it never hurts to ask for a little help along the way.
Our sign arrived in the form of the couple at our doorstep, more specifically, a woman named Annmarie. Casually dressed in a light jacket, she was an attractive woman, slight in build, with beautiful eyes that dominated her face. She looked deeply into my eyes when she met me, as if she was reading my soul. Later, I would learn that she was, at least in her own way. I instantly felt a connection with her but was at a loss to explain why.
“Hi. I’m Annmarie This is my husband Kirk, and our son Wyatt.”
“Hello,” Josh and I both greeted them, crowded together in the door.
We didn’t invite them in.
“I saw your flyer and just had to come talk to you. I know it seems odd to just show up at your doorstep, but I need to talk to you.” Annmarie went on to explain that she had seen our flyer at the 4000 block of Oakland Avenue while they were eating dinner, and she absolutely could not get it out of her head. On the way home, she’d forced Kirk to return to the restaurant so that she could copy our address and contact information down.
The 4000 block was where we had been instructed to go that very first day by the ragtag group of psychics outside of the sub shop. They had told us that help would be found there.
As Annmarie rushed to explain how she could help, it took a while for her words to register. It turned out that she was the Vice President of a media group that managed five radio stations, and her husband owned Hal’s Harley-Davidson, a predominant motorcycle business in town. She asked me to write down her email address and to send her more information; she’d help however she could.
I hugged her and thanked her for her help. Then, stepping back inside, I looked down at the paper in my hand, the one with her various email addresses on it. My hand couldn’t stop shaking. I just stared at her name on the paper and her email. Why is this one person, of the hundreds of people who’ve offered to help, resonating with me so much?
It was a simple exchange of words — an encounter that lasted under five minutes — yet it pierced me to the core.
Josh looked at me.
“Wow. That was really nice of them.”
“I have to email her right now.” I rushed upstairs and proceeded to send Annmarie a detailed email about everything we’d done for Briggs, as well as all the information we had about how and when he was stolen from us. Rejuvenated, I raved to Josh about all the potential opportunities we now had. This was a woman with clout. Who knows the type of exposure she could offer us? All I knew was that she would help.
Our sign had arrived.
Day 11: Evening, Part II
When the phone rang later that evening, I excitedly reached for it, certain it was my new best friend, Annmarie, ready to take over Milwaukee with the Briggs campaign.
“Hey, are you the owner of that dog who got lost? That black and white one? ‘Cause the neighborhood kids seen him, and I think I know where he is,” a young girl’s voice squeaked at me through the phone.
My heart skipped a beat.
Josh ran upstairs and paced as I delivered the details in a rapid rush of words.
The caller’s name was Anna. She was a young girl in a group home and was calling from the same rough neighborhood where the psychic had sent us to look for Briggs. The neighborhood kids were out running around and told her they’d seen our dog, the one from the poster.
“Tony the Junkyard Man has him,” Anna casually informed me.
“Who is Tony the Junkyard Man?” I asked, images of a masked man with a meat cleaver and rabid dogs flashing through my head.
“Everybody calls Tony that ‘cause he collects everything in sight. The neighborhood kids seen he got this dog and asked him where he got him from, and he said a guy sold the dog to him.”
“Can you tell me anything about the guy who sold the dog?” I asked.
“Yeah, my uncle cuts his hair. He got a fade last week, but nobody’s seen him around since then. He’s Puerto Rican,” Anna said.
“Hmm. Puerto Rican, you say?”
“And you say nobody knows where he is?”
“Right. Ain’t nobody seen him since he sold the dog to the Junkyard Man.”
“Okay, Anna. Can you do me a favor? Can you go to Tony the Junkyard Man’s house and see if the dog is still there? Is there a way you can sneak and take a picture?” I asked, tension lacing my words.
“Sure. I’ll call you back after some kids go check it out.”
“Remember that there’s a reward, no questions—”
She hung up before I could finish, but I was glad to see she hadn’t called from a restricted number.
Josh’s breath came out in tiny puffs as he stomped around the third floor.
“This feels right. This is good.”
I filled him in and bounced around the room, trying to contain my frenetic energy. I couldn’t help getting a little dig in.
“See? This is why I didn’t want you to go out without me.”
With a well-deserved eye-roll, Josh resumed his pacing, and I realized it probably wasn’t the time for I-told-you-so’s.
“I don’t understand. Who is this Junkyard Man?” Josh asked.
“I have no idea. Anna said she’s sending the neighborhood kids over to check the situation out. If it is Briggs, how do we go in and get him? We can’t just barge in there making demands. That’d be like asking for trouble, especially at night.”
As we silently contemplated how to handle the new situation, my phone rang again.
“Hi, Anna. What did you learn?” I asked.
“Well, the kids went over there, but Tony wouldn’t let them in. He left and locked the door and told them to keep out, but they said they can hear a dog barking, and they know it’s a black and white dog.”
“Can someone go talk to Tony and find out how he got the dog? Let him know that we are offering a reward?”
“We can try.”
“Anna, do you know Tony’s address?”
Anna rattled it off to me, and I couldn’t believe it. It was right in the middle of the neighborhood the psychic had led us to. A Hispanic man had sold a black and white dog to someone else and hadn’t been seen since the transaction. We were sure that Tony the Junkyard Man was our man, and we were convinced Briggs was in there.
“Okay. Thanks, Anna. We really appreciate your help. I don’t want to bring the police in or anything. I just want to know if it is our dog.” I hung up the phone, but didn’t know what to do next.
Josh looked at me and asked, “Should we go over there?”
We thought about it and realized again that it was Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend. People would be out partying, barbecuing, and likely not sober. Cruising through a rough neighborhood and stopping at Tony the Junkyard Man’s house to insist that he show us a dog that he bought (fair and square as far as he knew) might not exactly qualify as wise. That much we knew.
I hated the predicament we were in. It was so tiring feeling like victims, like we had no control over our situation. We constantly felt like our hands were tied. As risky as I knew it would be, I ached with wanting to go over there immediately.
Luckily, Anna called us back.
“The kids came back,” she said. “Tony doesn’t want a reward. He says he wants to keep the dog, and he won’t let us in the house.”
“Okay, Anna. Thanks for your help. We may stop by or have an officer stop by. Please, please, please tell Tony that he is not in trouble. Nobody is in trouble. We don’t care about anything other than our dog’s safety.”
“Okay. My phone is dying, and curfew is coming up. Let me give you a friend’s number, just in case,” Anna said, shyly.
“Anna, where do you live?” I asked.
“Um, in a group home. They have some rules about phones and times.”
“All right. Thank you, Anna. You did the right thing by calling us, and we really, really appreciate you reaching out and trying to help. Not everyone has been so helpful.” As I hung up, I looked at Josh. “Let’s go.”
“Nice try, but we’re calling the cops in on this,” Josh said, staring me down.
Regardless of his insistence to involve the authorities, I had a strong suspicion that if he had received the call when I wasn’t home, he would have already been knocking on the Junkyard Man’s door.
“Oh, sure. I can’t go just because I’m a girl, huh?”
“I’ve already lost one thing I love, and I’m certainly not going to let another stand in harm’s way. I can’t protect you all the time, but I can now.”
It appeared that we had hit the proverbial rock and hard place, but I conceded, and we called the cops. We were concerned that this would ruin our reputation on the streets, but saw no other immediate option. The Junkyard Man would move the dog quickly if he knew he was in trouble.
We sat on the front stoop to wait for the cops. Since it was a holiday weekend, we imagined it would be a while, and we were right. Forty-five minutes later, they showed up. Standing on the sidewalk in front of our house, we detailed the calls from Anna.
The cops were skeptical and seemed a bit perturbed to be out on a missing canine call. They asked a lot of questions and hemmed and hawed, making me angry. Finally, I told them I would go to Tony’s house, with or without them. Realizing that I was serious, they quickly instructed us to stay put and said they’d go check it out.
We sat on our stoop for what felt like forever, barely talking. The smoky aroma of grilled meats teased our nostrils as cheerful noises from backyard barbecues drifted towards us. Our street was happy, and I was jealous. I wanted that freedom — that carefree attitude. I wanted us to be with Briggs, at a barbecue, with other dogs for him to run around with.
I idly wondered what Tony the Junkyard Man’s house was like. From the way he yelled at the kids who’d asked about our dog, I imagined it was utter filth. His neighborhood title didn’t exactly lend itself to high expectations for good hygiene or a healthy home environment.
“What if it isn’t Briggs?” Josh asked me.
“Then we get up tomorrow and keep looking,” I said, having no other answer. All I felt was an icy pit of absolute certainty burning in my stomach. We had to keep going forward; there would be no stopping or giving up.
Still, I felt like our window of opportunity was closing. What if all of this pressure we’re putting on everyone actually ends up harming Briggs? Are we scaring his captors into killing him or dumping him alongside the road? Are we making the right decisions, doing the right things for Briggs’ sake? All I could do was trust my instincts. I knew we had to keep going, even if that meant I’d eventually be the last one standing.
“Are you worried that we’re sending the wrong message by sending the cops in?” Josh asked.
“Yes. We’ve saturated the neighborhood with flyers and posters, telling people to call us, and the first time we have a real lead, we send in the police. The last thing we need is for people to think the police are going to show up every time they call about possibly seeing Briggs.”
“I know. I was thinking that too,” Josh said, realizing the error of our ways. His broad shoulders were tense and he continued to twist his hands anxiously.
I just wanted to throw something.
“At the very least, we made a point of asking the cops to be extremely nice and to tell Tony that there is a reward, no questions asked.” But I knew it wouldn’t hold much weight on streets where cops were the enemy.
As time stretched on, we once again fell silent. Left to our own thoughts, I wondered if this was the answer to our fire prayers from the night before. Or was it the woman who showed up at the door, offering to help us with her connections? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Anna’s tip put an end to all of this?
Headlights sliced through my musings, and the police car slowed to a stop in front of our house. Nervous, we ran to the car as the officers got out.
“Is it him? Is it him?”
I already knew the answer; I could tell by their demeanor. They were both wearing that face cops wear when they have bad news.
“I’m sorry, but that man doesn’t have your dog. We took a picture just to make sure.”
One of the officers held up his cell phone for me to peer at the tiny screen. There, a black and white Border Collie looked forlornly back at me. He had a white blaze down his forehead, similar to Briggs’ markings. My shoulders slumped. Hope slipped from me as I thanked the officers.
“That’s it. We’re going out,” Josh declared.
Numbly, I agreed. I couldn’t sit at home and obsess over all the awful things that might be happening to Briggs. My grasp on my emotions was tenuous at best. Anna’s story had checked all the boxes. Letting go of it nearly defeated me. We both needed to blow off a little steam before we imploded.
The city lights twinkled at us as we trudged along the sidewalk to meet up with our friends. Patio tables fought for sidewalk space, and lines spilled from restaurants as people waited to see and be seen. It was hard for us to be out. Harder than we had realized it would be. A fog of sadness cloaked us, making conversation stilted and difficult. People either wanted to hear every detail of what we’d been doing to find Briggs, or they tried to quickly change the subject to trivial matters that meant nothing to us. We had become the “Debbie Downer” couple. Soon, a subtle space grew around us as people drifted away to find lighthearted conversations. Serious conversations were for another time.
The night took mercy on us and came to an end. Our friends went home to sleep in and gear up for Memorial Day festivities. Our silent, dark house waited for us, a veritable tomb of sadness and loss. As we walked inside, Briggs’ absence was louder than his presence had ever been. Briggs used to greet us in a very unique way. We only had to hold our hands above his head and open and close them three times, then say, “I love you.” Each and every time, he barked three times, which was his way of repeating those words back to us. I held out my hand to the empty living room.
“I love you,” I silently mouthed as I opened and closed my hand three times.